Splendor in the Grass
|Splendor in the Grass|
Theatrical release poster by Bill Gold
|Directed by||Elia Kazan|
|Produced by||Elia Kazan|
|Written by||William Inge|
|Music by||David Amram|
|Edited by||Gene Milford|
|Distributed by||Warner Bros.|
|Box office||$4 million (US/ Canada)|
Splendor in the Grass is a 1961 Technicolor romantic drama film that tells a story of a teenage girl navigating her feelings of sexual repression, love, and heartbreak. Written by William Inge, who appears briefly as a Protestant clergyman and won an Oscar for his screenplay, the film was directed by Elia Kazan and features a score by jazz composer David Amram.
Kansas, 1928: Wilma Dean "Deanie" Loomis (Natalie Wood) is a teenage girl who follows her mother's advice to resist her desire for sex with her boyfriend, Bud Stamper (Warren Beatty), the son of one of the most prosperous families in town. In turn, Bud reluctantly follows the advice of his father, Ace (Pat Hingle), who suggests that he find another kind of girl with whom to satisfy his desires. Bud's parents are ashamed of his older sister, Ginny (Barbara Loden), a flapper and party girl who is sexually promiscuous, smokes, drinks, and has recently been brought back from Chicago, where her parents had a marriage annulled to someone who married her solely for her money. Rumors in town, however, have been swirling that the real reason was that she had an abortion. Being so disappointed in their daughter, Bud's parents "pin all their hopes" on Bud, pressuring him to attend Yale University. The emotional pressure is too much for Bud, who suffers a physical breakdown and nearly dies from pneumonia.
Bud knows one of the girls in high school, Juanita (Jan Norris) who is willing to become sexually involved with him, and he has a liaison with her. A short while later, depressed because of Bud ending their relationship, Deanie acts out by modeling herself after Bud's sister, Ginny. At a party she attends with another boy from high school, "Toots" Tuttle (Gary Lockwood), Deanie goes outside with Bud and makes a play for him. When she is rebuffed by Bud, who is shocked, since he always thought of her as a "good girl," she turns back to "Toots," who drives her out to a private parking spot by a pond that streams into a waterfall. While there, Deanie realizes that she can't go through with sex, at which point she is almost raped. Escaping from "Toots" and driven close to madness, she attempts to commit suicide by jumping in the pond, being rescued just before swimming over the falls. Her parents sell their stock to pay for her institutionalization, which actually turns out to be a blessing in disguise, since they make a nice profit prior to the Crash of '29 that leads to the Great Depression.
While Deanie is in the institution, she meets another patient, Johnny Masterson (Charles Robinson), who is working out anger issues targeted at his parents, who want him to be a surgeon. The two patients form a bond. Meanwhile, Bud is sent off to Yale, where he fails practically all his subjects. While at school, he meets Angelina (Zohra Lampert), the daughter of Italian immigrants who run a local restaurant in New Haven. In October 1929, Bud's father travels to New Haven in an attempt to persuade the dean not to expel Bud from school. While Ace is in New Haven, the stock market crashes, and he loses everything. He takes Bud to New York for a weekend, including to a cabaret nightclub, after which he commits suicide. Bud has to identify the body.
Deanie returns home from the asylum after two years and six months, "almost to the day." Ace's widow has gone to live with relatives, while Bud's sister has died in a car crash. Deanie's mother wants to shield her from any potential anguish from meeting Bud and so pretends to not know where he is. When Deanie's high school friends come over, her mother gets them to agree to feign ignorance on Bud's whereabouts. However, Deanie's father refuses to coddle his daughter and tells her that Bud has taken up ranching and lives on the old family farm. Her friends drive Deanie out to meet Bud. He is now married to Angelina, they have an infant son, "Bud Jr.," and Angelina is expecting another child. Deanie lets Bud know that she is going to marry John, who is now a doctor in Cincinnati. During their brief reunion, Deanie and Bud realize that both must accept what life has thrown at them, as Bud says, "What's the point? You gotta take what comes." They each relate that they "don't think about happiness very much anymore."
As Deanie leaves with her friends, Bud only seems partially satisfied by the direction his life has taken. After the others are gone, he reassures Angelina, who has realized that Deanie was once the love of Bud's life. Driving away, Deanie's friends ask her if she is still in love with Bud. She realizes that she still loves him warmly, but that they can never recover that blazing love of youth which they once had. She does not answer her friends, but Deanie's voice is heard reciting four lines from a Wordsworth poem:
- "Though nothing can bring back the hour
- Of splendor in the grass, glory in the flower,
- We will grieve not; rather find
- Strength in what remains behind."
- Natalie Wood as Wilma Dean "Deanie" Loomis
- Warren Beatty as Bud Stamper
- Pat Hingle as Ace Stamper
- Joanna Roos as Mrs. Stamper
- Audrey Christie as Mrs. Loomis
- Fred Stewart as Del Loomis
- Barbara Loden as Virginia "Ginny" Stamper
- Zohra Lampert as Angelina
- John McGovern as Doc Smiley
- Jan Norris as Juanita Howard
- Martine Bartlett as Miss Metcalf
- Gary Lockwood as Allen "Toots" Tuttle
- Sandy Dennis as Kay
- Crystal Field as Hazel
- Marla Adams as June
- Phyllis Diller as Texas Guinan
The film is based on people whom screenwriter William Inge knew while growing up in Kansas in the 1920s. He told the story to director Elia Kazan when they were working on a production of Inge's play The Dark at the Top of the Stairs, in 1957. They agreed that it would make a good film and that they wanted to work together on it. Inge wrote it first as a novel, then as a screenplay.
The film's title is taken from a line of William Wordsworth's poem "Ode: Intimations of Immortality from Recollections of Early Childhood":
- What though the radiance which was once so bright
- Be now for ever taken from my sight,
- Though nothing can bring back the hour
- Of splendour in the grass, of glory in the flower;
- We will grieve not, rather find
- Strength in what remains behind...
Two years before writing the screenplay for the film, Inge wrote a stage play whose title comes from the same line of the Wordsworth poem, Glory in the Flower (1953). The play relates the story of two middle-aged former lovers who meet again briefly at a diner after a long estrangement; they are essentially the same characters as Bud and Deanie, though the names are "Bus" and "Jackie".
Scenes of Kansas and the Loomis home were shot in the Travis section of Staten Island, New York City. Exterior scenes of the high school campus were shot at Horace Mann School in the Bronx. The gothic buildings of the North Campus of The City College of New York stand in for Yale University in New Haven. The scenes at the waterfall were shot in High Falls, New York, summer home of director Kazan.
Warren Beatty, while having appeared on television (most notably in a recurring role on The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis), made his screen debut in this film. He had met Inge the prior year while appearing in Inge's play, A Loss of Roses, on Broadway.
Also making her screen debut in this film, Sandy Dennis appeared in a small role as a classmate of Deanie's. Marla Adams and Phyllis Diller were others who made their first appearance in this film. Diller's role was based on the real life Texas Guinan, a famous actress and restaurateur, who owned the famous "300 Club" in New York City in the 20's.
Bosley Crowther, in a "Critics' Pick" review, called the film a "frank and ferocious social drama that makes the eyes pop and the modest cheek burn"; he had comments on several of the performances:
- Pat Hingle "gives a bruising performance as the oil-wealthy father of the boy, pushing and pounding and preaching, knocking the heart out of the lad"
- Audrey Christie is "relentlessly engulfing as the sticky-sweet mother of the girl"
- Warren Beatty is a "surprising newcomer" and an "amiable, decent, sturdy lad whose emotional exhaustion and defeat are the deep pathos in the film"
- Natalie Wood has a "beauty and radiance that carry her through a role of violent passions and depressions with unsullied purity and strength. There is poetry in her performance, and her eyes in the final scene bespeak the moral significance and emotional fulfillment of this film."
Time magazine said "the script, on the whole, is the weakest element of the picture, but scriptwriter Inge can hardly be blamed for it" since it had been "heavily edited" by Kazan; he called the film a "relatively simple story of adolescent love and frustration" that has been "jargoned-up and chaptered-out till it sounds like an angry psychosociological monograph describing the sexual mores of the heartless heartland."
Awards and accolades
At the 34th Academy Awards, Inge won an Oscar for Best Writing, Story and Screenplay—Written Directly for the Screen; Wood was nominated for Best Actress in a Leading Role, but lost to Sophia Loren in Two Women.
The film received three nominations in the 1961 Hollywood Foreign Press Association awards: "Best Picture - Drama", "Best Performance by an Actor in a Motion Picture - Drama" for Warren Beatty, and "Best Performance by an Actress in a Motion Picture - Drama" for Natalie Wood.
References in popular culture
- Pink Martini released their fourth album in 2009, titled Splendor in the Grass.
- Eric Carmen wrote the song "Hey Deanie" about the character of the same name on his album Change of Heart. "Hey Deanie" also became a Top 10 hit for Shaun Cassidy.
- Jackie De Shannon wrote her song "Splendor in the Grass" in 1966 after watching the movie. She released three singles with two versions of the song.
- The UK pop group Gullivers People recorded a popular single of the song in 1966. It was produced for the EMI Parlophone label by Norman "Hurricane" Smith.
- Indie band Splendora named their album "In The Grass".
- On their 1991 album, "Like Stars in My Hands", Australian band Single Gun Theory sampled Natalie Wood's reciting the Wordsworth poem at the beginning of the third song, "Take Me Back".
- "All-Time B.O. Champs", Variety, 3 January 1968 p 25. Please note these figures refer to rentals accruing to the distributors.
- "Forgotten NY".
- "New York Times".
- Crowther, Bosley (October 11, 1961). "Splendor in the Grass". NYT Critics' Pick. The New York Times. Retrieved 2011-07-20.
- "Cinema: Love in Kazansas". Time. October 13, 1961. Retrieved 2011-07-20.
- "34th Academy Awards".
- "14th Annual DGA Awards".
- "BAFTA Awards".
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